It Takes a Village

Key Steps to Reading Success program improves children’s reading abilities


booktableStory reprinted courtesy of Summit Education Initiative

Summit Education Initiative (SEI) knows that:

  • schools want to engage families;
  • families want their children to be successful; and
  • books at home make a difference in children’s learning and development


Along with SEI, Shelley Houser, a literacy coach for The University of Akron Center for Literacy, had to determine how to incorporate all three ideals into one program. The goal? Reduce the number of children in need of a Reading Improvement and Monitoring Plan (RIMP) across Summit County.

ShelleyHouserShelley Houser


“Many well-known researchers in the field of literacy education state that parents are their children’s first teachers,” Houser says. “Literacy learning begins at birth and continues constantly over the course of a lifetime. What children encounter at home has a huge impact on their understanding of early reading skills.”


Houser adds, “While literacy coaches typically work with teachers in their classrooms, working with parents is also an important part of the equation.”


Although research suggests families of young children who read together 20 minutes a day put their children at an advantage in early literacy, schools often struggle with engaging the families of their students.


“SEI and the Center for Literacy had been discussing the development of a program to help families assist their children with early literacy skills,” Houser explains. “The program would include literacy activities designed to increase some of the skills research determined are predictive of future reading achievement.”




Once the Center for Literacy determined kindergarten is the best time to approach families with a program designed to improve their child’s reading skills, SEI helped them develop a 10-week program called Key Steps to Reading Success. Together, the organizations piloted the program in spring 2016 with approximately 30 students from Twinsburg’s Wilcox Primary School.


Thanks to the Center for Literacy’s partnership with SEI, specifically its involvement with the Third Grade Reading Action Team, Houser knew which students and families to target for the program. SEI analyzed data from schools to determine which students were not on track for success.


“Based on trends in data, we expected roughly 20 to 30 percent of kindergarten students in Summit County would begin this school year ‘off track,’” says Matt Deevers, senior research associate for SEI.


The good news? “Our initial pilot study showed that students whose families engaged fully in the project gained an additional 27 percent on their spring Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP) test scores, compared with students whose families did not participate,” Deevers says.


MathewDeevers,Matt Deevers


“Once the parents committed to the program, they began to notice the positive changes occurring within their children’s work,” adds Kaye Rowe, SEI’s controller and operations manager, who worked with Houser to organize and execute the program’s pilot. She also explained SEI’s work during a parent meeting and had the opportunity to meet some of the students involved with the program at Wilcox Primary.


Because the initial pilot proved to be successful, SEI and the Center for Literacy decided to expand the program for the 2016 – 2017 school year. In addition to making some modifications to the program, they invited more schools to participate to see whether the program would have similar results in its second year.


As Rowe says, “We should thank the parents for a big part of the program’s success. It was rewarding to see the impact of parents’ ongoing support.”




Take Two

SEI and the Center for Literacy invited nine specific schools within eight districts to participate in the Key Steps to Reading Success program within this school year. Those districts include Akron, Barberton, Copley-Fairlawn, Nordonia Hills, Norton, Tallmadge, Twinsburg and Woodridge—all of which represent the diversity within Summit County.


As Deevers says, “Participation made the idea stronger.”


While Dr. Lisa Lenhart, director of the Center for Literacy, along with Houser and Pam Oviatt, also a literacy coach, coordinated the program with “building champions” at each school, SEI set aside developmental funds to cover the costs of program materials. Houser revised the materials for use in the beginning and middle of kindergarten, which coupled building foundational skills with comprehension skills and meaning.


“We designed this program to help families work with their children on a variety of important literacy skills within the context of certain books,” Houser says.


While she used a take-home parent response form to track engagement from week-to-week throughout the program, Houser also began encouraging more family engagement outside of school by mimicking the classroom culture and sending students home with supplemental materials – including books.


“By the end of the program, students have 14 books at home,” says Deevers, adding he and Houser decided books distributed throughout the program should stay in children’s homes. “At the beginning, parents read to their children; by the end of the program, kids can read to their parents. This helps kids feel more confident and proud about their abilities. We’re promoting a level of independence with reading.”


Parents have noticed the positive differences, too.


“Gwyneth has definitely become a better reader over the last 10 or so weeks,” says a parent whose daughter participated in the Woodridge program this school year. “Rhyming ‘Go Fish’ was her favorite game.”


“I started looking at the data—and it is amazing,” says Beth Harrington, principal of Woodridge Primary School. “Of the 23 students who participated for eight or more weeks, 19 are now on track!”


Other schools have taken a slightly different approach to the program. At Akron’s Bettes Elementary School, which educates a high percentage of children from families of English Language Learners, parents implement activities with their children on site, right after school.


“Principal Laxmi Chari felt Bettes parents would benefit much more if someone from the Center for Literacy explained how to implement the activities in person,” Houser explains. “Lorrin Calderon, Mollie Wright and I do just that. Then, parents are more prepared to help their children continue working on skills at home.”




More Success, More Growth

Houser is interested in studying whether children continue to exhibit success in reading achievement in the years following kindergarten.


“If we measure positive results in participating students’ reading achievement at the end of year two, I hope to share this program with many other school districts,” she explains.


Overall, Houser hopes participating children acquire stronger skills in early literacy and therefore meet with success beyond the 10-week program.


“Because rapid development occurs in children’s brains during the early years, making small differences at the beginning of kindergarten can become large differences at the end of that school year and beyond,” Houser says. “I hope parents realize that teaching their children about literacy within the context of reading a meaningful story is not only possible, but fun, too.”


As Houser says, “parents regularly working with their children will really make a difference in their children’s reading success.”

For more information go to: Summit Education Initiative

Photos: Courtesy of Principal Laxmi Chari, Teachers Kathleen Gironda, Kelly Ripley and Kyrstn Was, Bettes Elementary School, Akron Public Schools, and SEI

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